Get a Jump on Your Fitness with Plyometrics

Elite athletes know plyometrics. Simply put, they know it improves athletic performance by making them quicker and more explosive. Once used in a small percentage of athletic programs, plyometrics are now an integral part of the elite athlete’s regimen, with everyone from Drew Brees to Kevin Durant to Tiger Woods swearing by them.

But the average gym-goer, no matter how fit, probably doesn’t fully understand them. While a plyo program has tremendous value, it is a highly specialized fitness activity that needs to be done in tandem with an overall strengthening program, and it needs to be done right.

The Basics
“Plyometrics capitalizes on strength,” says certified strength and conditioning specialist (CSCS) Gregory Haff, Ph.D., an exercise physiologist at West Virginia University who coaches Olympic weightlifters. In other words, make sure you have a strong base before embarking on a plyo program, especially in your legs, hips and core. If you’re doing plenty of power exercises like squats, lunges, leg presses, stiff-legged dead lifts, leg curls and core moves, then you’re ready.

For the beginner, Haff recommends doing plyos twice a week for 80-100 jumps (do cardio and weights on two to three other days). Your plyo program will consist of a 10- to 20-minute warm-up and only about 10 minutes of plyos. Haff advises a four-to-six week program before a sport season (not during one). If you’re not playing a sport, simply cycle in a month of plyometrics every three to four months.

Why So Limited?
According to Haff, fatigue cuts down your ability to engage the strength-shortening cycle, or SSC, which is what plyometrics is all about.

Any explosive movement involves the two phases of muscular contraction: the eccentric phase (muscle lengthening under tension) followed by the concentric phases (muscle being shortened). A pre-stretch of the muscle lengthens it and creates tension that can be used to increase the concentric contraction, which must immediately follow, or else the tension goes away as heat. Take, for example, the quick countermovement before jumping, when you rapidly switch from descending to ascending. The faster the muscle is stretched eccentrically, the greater the force on the subsequent concentric phase. In other words, the shortest amount of time spent on the ground (amortization) during a jump results in the greatest jumping performance.

Tire your muscles and you’ll lengthen the amortization, which then decreases the effectiveness of the plyometric exercise.

The Warm-up
Complete a dynamic 10- to 20-minute warm-up prior to plyos: high-knee walking, heels-to-butt walking, skipping, walking lunges, shuffling sideways, carioca (moving sideways in a grapevine movement of step, step behind, step in front), running backward with heels hitting butt, rope skipping, and finally dynamic stretches (neck rotations, shoulder rolls, arm rotations, trunk twists, hip rotations, knee rolls, ankle rotations and leg swings).

The Program
The following program was provided by Jim Radcliffe, CSCS, strength coach at the University of Oregon. Use a flat, cushioned surface, and rest for 30 to 60 seconds between each set.


# Reps

# Sets

1. Pogo



2. Squat jump

4 to 6 (first 2 weeks); then 6 to 8

2 (first 2 weeks) to 3

3. Rocket jump

4 to 6

2 (first 2 weeks) to 3

4. Star jump

4 to 6

2 (first 2 weeks) to 3

5. Galloping



6. Fast skipping



Pogo: Take upright stance with knees slightly bent, chest out and shoulders back. Jump straight up by projecting hips upward for height, using only lower portion of legs; you’ll resemble a pogo stick, with knees staying slightly bent throughout exercise. With arms bent at 90 degrees, swing them up for each jump to assist. Upon each takeoff, keep toes pointed up (instead of down).

Squat jump: Take relaxed, upright stance with feet about shoulder-width apart. Interlock fingers, and place palms against back of head. Flex downward to half-squat position, then immediately explode upward as high as possible, extending hips, knees and ankles to maximum length as quickly as you can. For first two weeks, pause between each jump.

Rocket jump: Take relaxed, upright stance with feet about shoulder-width apart. Slightly flex arms, and hold them close to body. Flex downward to half-squat position, then immediately explode upward as high as possible, extending whole body (including arms) vertically.

Star jump: Same as rocket jump, except extend limbs outward in all four directions away from body, arms pointed at 10 and 2 o’clock and legs at 7 and 5 o’clock.

Galloping: (For this and the following exercise, you'll need access to a large, open space.) Assume a standing position with one leg in front of the other. Gallop like a horse by pushing off with back leg and foot, and continue to keep same leg behind hips while maintaining other leg in forward position. One foot will always come off the ground before the other. Keep ankle locked to emphasize spring-loaded landing and takeoff. Switch position of legs after 10 gallops.

Fast skipping: Assume a relaxed standing position with one leg slightly forward. Skip as quickly as possible, maintaining close contact with the ground and eliminating air time.

Plan to Ski or Snowboard? Strengthen up Now!

Snowboard-and-ski season is fast upon us. And while your mind may be ready for the powder, chances are your body isn’t. That’s because skiing and snowboarding are sports that require a specific type of lower-body muscle strength, which you don’t typically get from summer activities. Fail to build up the right muscles -- primarily supporting the knees and lower back -- and you leave yourself open to some nasty injuries.

Think about your body when you ski: Your knees are absorbing all the impact from the terrain up through the body. “The knee gets tremendous overuse due to the forces placed on it,” says Mike Wunsch, CSCS, director of fitness at Results Fitness in Santa Clarita, Calif. “And it has to take the slack from the now locked-in ankle.”

Weak quads and hamstrings can make the knee joint vulnerable to a ligament injury, such as an LCL or ACL tear, either from a fall or from ski tips running in opposite ways.

“The lower back is the other area that absorbs a lot of impact,” adds Courtenay Schurman, MS, CSCA, co-owner of Body Results Fitness in Seattle and author of The Outdoor Athlete. “Since a downhill skier spends so much time in a crouch position, if he or she has a weak core, like the weakest link in any chain, that area runs the risk of injury.”

For a safe and successful winter-sports season, Wunsch recommends the following workout. Do two to three sets of eight to 12 reps of each exercise twice a week.


Box step-down:
Stand on a box 12 to 24 inches high and step off, working on controlling your body’s downward movement and nailing the landing. Alternate the lead leg throughout the set.

Lateral hops: Keeping feet directly underneath you, quickly hop sideways without pausing during landing phases. After several hops one way, reverse direction. Keep chest up, and maintain good posture throughout.

Pause squats: Simply pause in the bottom squat position, keeping your muscles flexed, before coming up. You can use a light load (a bar or dumbbells held at the sides) and pause several seconds or go heavier and pause for just two seconds.

Single-leg balance: Snowboarders need to work on balance and building up endurance in the foot-stabilizing musculature. Work up to several minutes (as that’s how long a run can last) standing on one foot with the other lifted off the ground, knee up.

Lateral lunge: Step to the right with the right foot, keeping toes forward and your feet flat. Squat through the right hip while keeping the left leg straight. Squat as low as possible, holding this position for two seconds. Push back to the starting position and repeat to the opposite side.

Diagonal wood chops: Keep legs shoulder-width apart, knees soft. Using both hands, hold a dumbbell alongside your right ear, with elbows slightly bent. (Picture yourself holding up an ax, ready to chop wood.) Flex abs and do a slight squat as you rotate and bring arms down to the side of your left knee. Slowly bring arms back up to starting position. Switch sides after each set.

The Pallof press: Standing with the side of your body next to a cable machine, hold the cable handle with both hands (one on top of the other) right in front of your chest. The cable pulley should be in the same horizontal plane as your abs, and the cable should be taut. Brace your abs and “press” the handle straight out in front of you. Then return the handle back to your chest. Keep moving the handle back and forth while trying to keep it in a straight line (indicating that you are stabilizing your torso well). Switch sides.

Cardio at the end of your workout should be in a similar ratio to the work/rest ratio for your sport. If your slope runs are short and sweet (like for rails, jumps, etc.), do several short, super-intense bursts followed by short rest periods (such as 15-second sprints followed by 30 seconds of rest). If you expect to do long runs, surfing and carving the mountain, do longer periods of medium-to-high intensity with longer rest periods (three-minute bouts on the elliptical, for example, and two-minute rests).

Winning Water-sport Workouts

Sure, all board sports require quick reaction time. And you’ll need to get the hang of good balance before you can hang ten. But you’ll also need power and a good deal of stamina if you want to be a standout in the water. To get those, there are certain exercises you’ll need to do beforehand.

Whether you ride the surf on a long board or prefer to ride the waves behind a high-powered ski boat, just master this workout, and you’ll be chairman of the boards.

Exercise 1: Shoulder Carry

The training tool:

A heavy bag (aka punching bag) from the gym -- or a bag of mulch, sand or any other large object you can shoulder and walk/run with.

The move:

Find an open space (like a parking lot or driveway). Squat down, hoist the heavy bag (or bag of mulch, sand, etc.) onto one shoulder and simply walk forward 20 to 30 yards. Then, set the bag down, turn around, hoist it back up onto the opposite shoulder and return to your starting point. That’s one full rep. Go for six to 10 reps, resting just 30 seconds between reps. Add speed or weight when possible.

But why?

With traditional gym exercises, you typically lift, pump or press weights evenly on both sides of your body. (For example, when you do bicep curls, you lift a 25-pound dumbbell with your right arm while lifting another 25-pound dumbbell with your left arm). But when you’re board-sporting, waves don’t necessarily hit you evenly: At any given moment, you might have to deploy only the muscles on one side of your body to keep your balance on a surfboard. Doing this asymmetrically loaded exercise will help your core develop the ability to handle just about any wave the ocean throws at you while also increasing your stamina. Plus, this is a total body exercise -- meaning, you need less time to train than if you worked each muscle or muscle group individually.

Exercise 2: The Slosh-pipe Hold

The training tool:

For about $20, you can build your own top-notch training tool. Go to your local hardware store and pick up a 10-foot length of 4-inch diameter schedule 40 PVC pipe. Also get an end cap and a threaded cleanout. (If you don’t know much about plumbing materials, just ask.) You’ll also need a small can of PVC adhesive to hold it all together.

The move:

By filling the pipe about one-third to half full with water (thanks to the threaded cleanout fitting, you can adjust the amount at will), you’ll have a total weight of roughly 40 to 50 pounds. Not a big deal when held vertically. The real trick is keeping it level when cradling it horizontally, across the front of your chest, with both arms while standing. As soon as you think you’ve mastered the simple standing-hold described above, try breaking into your board/ski stance and see what you’re made of. Build up to 12 to 15 reps up to a minute each (with a minute between attempts), and there ain’t a wave going to break you down.

But why?

With all that water flying back and forth over a 10-foot track of pipe, you won’t have time to wonder, “Are those my obliques or my rectus abdominis working?” The answer is you’re going to have to hang on with everything you’ve got from the ground up. The very nature of the pipe exercise (water sloshing back and forth unpredictably) means no two workouts will be the same -- forcing your body to adapt to the erratic forces of water nature. So when that rogue wave comes along, you’ll be able to react quickly and have the muscle power to do so.

Exercise 3: Renegade Row

The training tool:

You’ll need one dumbbell, a little bit of floor space and a whole lot of muscle.

The move:

If you’re familiar with the yoga-style “plank,” it’s like that (only much more manly with the addition of the row). With the dumbbell on the floor, get in the top position of a push-up with a slightly wider-than-shoulder-width foot stance. Now grab the dumbbell with one hand and pull your elbow toward the ceiling, bringing the weight next to the bottom of your rib cage -- all while resisting the gravitationally motivated urge to twist, bend or contort your body toward the floor. Do two to three sets (per side), with eight to 12 reps. Rest 60 to 90 seconds between sets.

But why?

This routine challenges core strength and stability at a much higher intensity than any sit-up or crunch ever could. Core strength and stability, as you now know, are essential to maintaining balance on the boards and the planks!

Get Strong With Olympic Lifts

Looking to achieve tremendous gains in strength, speed and agility … like an Olympian? Try Olympic lifts, weight training techniques sure to chisel you into a gym warrior.

Just because you're not ski-jumping, speed skating, luging or curling like a 2010 Winter Olympian, doesn't mean you can't train like one (or like a summer Olympian, for that matter). We're talking weighlifting techniques called Olympic lifts -- a routine that well-respected exercise physiologists and personal trainers swear by for everyday gym warriors. Just a few of these classic moves go a long way to build strength, speed and agility.

The Olympic lifts can form the crux of a strength training program. Says certified exercise physiologist Greg Haff, PhD, the program can burn tons of calories and boost -- sometimes significantly -- your performance level in any sport (particularly those that require explosive movement, such as basketball, football, baseball or even tennis).

By now, you're probably thinking, "Okay, just show me the moves and I'll get going." Not so fast. Haff, an assistant professor at West Virginia University in the School of Medicine, encourages you to find a National Strength & Conditioning Association-Certified Personal Trainer or Certified Sports and Conditioning Specialist to teach you how to do Olympic lifts. Treat this like a new sport, for that's what it is -- particularly in contrast to a relatively basic gym routine. The reason: Olympic lift technique is key and very specific for each move. Plus, keep in mind that you must be free of joint problems and already possess a good strength base (you will already need to have built some strength via the standard bench/shoulder/triceps/leg presses).

If you're not ready to get a weightlifting coach or start on a full weightlifting program, here are three Olympic lift exercises that you should consider adding into your normal strength program: The Back Squat, Romanian Deadlift and Power Clean. All will build great power and strength, guaranteed.

3 Olympic Lifts to Try

Olympic Lift 1: Back Squat

• Hold straight bar (with a moderate amount of weight -- such as two 25-pound plates -- in the beginning) behind base of neck.

• Keep torso upright.

• Bend knees and hips until thighs are parallel to ground.

• Keep weight centered on heels (rather than toes) throughout the move.

• Returning to the upright position.

Olympic Lift 2: Power Clean

This Olympic lift consists of 2 motions:

1st Pull

: Slowly haul the barbell (in the beginning, do with bar only, then progress by adding 10-pound plates) from the floor to your knees.


2nd Pull

: Hike the barbell from your mid-thighs to your shoulders by extending your hips in one explosive movement.


Olympic Lift 3: Romanian Deadlift

• Grasp barbell (begin with two 10-pound plates, then progress from there) with wide overhand grip.

• Deadlift so you're standing with shoulder-width stance.

• Lower bar to top of feet by bending hips.

• Bend knees during descent and keep waist straight so back is parallel to floor at lowest position.

• Keep head up and in line with your spine throughout the move.

• Lift bar by extending at hips and knees until standing upright.

• Pull shoulders back slightly if rounded.

• Repeat.

The Olympic Lift Regimen

Repeat the three Olympic lifts listed above twice a week.

And when you're ready for more, there are other Olympic lifts you can add: the Power Snatch, Overhead Squats, Snatch Grip Behind Neck Press, the Clean Pull From Floor, and 3-Way Shoulder. Ask your trainer to show you how to incorporate these moves into the rest of your routine, or visit for more Olympics lift how-tos.

The Ready-for-anything Workout

Want to be fit enough to conquer Tibet’s highest mountains? Or maybe “just” pass a fireman’s fitness test? All you have to do is master this exercise regimen.

Rock climbing Mount McKinley. Tossing a 60-yard spiral. Qualifying for a fire department fitness test. Competing in your local 200-mile bicycle race. Athletic challenges both big and small.

Few of us do workouts that can adequately prepare us for, literally, anything. But what if you could prepare your body to complete all the challenges above by practicing just one routine? If such a workout is what you want, then Sean Burch and his regimens, which have helped men run marathons and climb Mount Everest for the first time, are the ticket. The author of Hyperfitness and a world-record-setting mountain climber, Burch has helped numerous clients achieve amazing athletic feats through his training system.

Warning: His workouts are tough -- really tough. But then, he says, people, including young guys, don’t exercise anywhere close to the level they’re capable of. “If you can do this workout, completely mapped out in the 14 exercises below, there’s nothing you can’t do in fitness,” he adds.

To illustrate the kind of shape his workouts put you in, Sean went on an expedition to a remote part of Tibet, where he hiked and rock climbed for 15 hours every day, 23 days straight. During that time, he ascended a mind-boggling 63 virgin peaks (as in, he was the first one ever to reach the top of those peaks), all between 16,000 and 19,000 feet.

“My drills are meant to change the way you perceive and enact fitness, and were created to get readers in the best conceivable shape in the shortest amount of time. People are still separating their strength and cardiovascular training. This is wrong! Readers must think of their mind/body training as one entity to maximize the total body experience.”

Adds Burch: “The following 14 drills I use to sharpen my body and mind for expeditions around the world.”

The idea is to improve with each session until you can do the exercises completely through as intended. For a 30-minute killer workout, complete these high-energy moves in the order shown without resting, and build up to three times for each session:  

1. Inverted-V Push-up
Start in modified push-up position, with your butt up in the air so your body forms an inverted V. Stay on your toes, legs straight, then bend elbows while lowering head and shoulders toward floor. Go down till forehead lightly touches floor, then push back up. (10 to 14 reps)

2. Squat Palms Touch to Spread-eagle Jump
Squat, touch your palms to the floor, then spring up and spread-eagle with legs and arms. (15 to 20 reps)

3. Scale the Whale
Place one hand on a towel on a hard, smooth surface -- like the basketball court floor -- and get into runner’s starting position, with one leg ahead of the other and knees bent. Sprint forward the length of whatever surface you’re using, with your hand remaining on the towel that slides ahead of you. Then, assume the starting position and sprint back. Switch hands after 45 seconds and continue for another 45 seconds. Essentially, this drill elongates the hardest part of the sprint: the explosive start. (one minute, 30 seconds)

4. Riverdance
While hopping from one foot to the other, alternately tap your fingers on the inside of your raised ankle. (When you hop on your right foot, you’ll tap your left ankle and vice versa.) Increase the height of each hop as you develop more leg strength, and aim to maintain balance while increasing speed. (five sets of six reps; one rep is four touches)

5. Pop-up to Side Jump
Kneeling with legs and hands on ground, pop your body up quickly, bringing feet underneath your hips and arms by sides. Next, jump side to side, aiming for height rather than lateral distance. Return to kneeling and repeat. One rep is one pop-up and one jump to each side. (12 to 16 reps)

6. The Hyper Bound
Squat, jump forward or in place, then bring knees and palms down to touch the floor. Repeat. (20 reps)

7. Mountain Climbers
Get into push-up position. Keep upper body fixed, then bring right knee under body to chest then straight again, left knee to chest then straight again, right foot out to 3 o’clock and back again, and left foot to 9 o’clock and back again. Do in staccato, bouncy rhythm. (20 reps)

8. Staggered Hand Push-ups
Place one hand in normal push-up position and the other about a foot lower than normal so it’s opposite the rib cage. Execute push-up. Do eight reps before switching hand position, then do eight more reps. Repeat series for two minutes.

9. Rollup, Tuck, Rear Jump
Lie supine with arms stretched overhead, legs bent and feet on the floor. Bring arms forward while you roll up your body one vertebra at a time and stand. Jump, bringing heels to glutes. Then roll back down and repeat, in a fluid fashion. (15 reps)

10. 3-point Push-up With Jump-feet Switch
Get into 3-point push-up position (with both hands and only one foot on ground, other foot remaining elevated) and jump and switch feet after each push-up. (11 reps)

11. Triangle T to Full J-jack
Start in push-up position with feet together. Thrust them under your chest, then back to push-up position, over to right side, back to push-up position, over to left side and back to push-up position. Then bring them under chest and spring up for a full jumping jack. (15 reps)

12. Frog Jump Variation No. 4
Frog jump forward, beginning with feet wide and palms on the floor between them. Jump forward while switching hand and foot positions so feet go together and hands move outside feet. (25 reps)

13. Tricep Push-up Clap to Pop-up Squat Jump
Kneel and place hands in diamond shape on ground, directly below sternum. Form a straight line from knees to shoulders to top of head, and drop body down until arms are bent at a 90-degree angle at the elbows, then push back up and clap as you balance on your knees. Next, pop your feet under your chest and squat jump upward. (12 to 15 reps)

14. Flashdance
High-step forward with feet barely touching ground, as if ground was scalding hot. Clap under front leg throughout exercise. (aim for 50 claps)